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Expert has a serious health warning for Aussie kids who’ve been inspired to take up soccer after watching the Matildas at the World Cup


Expert has a serious health warning for Australian children who were inspired to take up football after watching Matildas at the World Cup

The Women’s World Cup has prompted a huge increase in enrollment in youth football programs – but a doctor has warned Australian children that one aspect of the game could pose a risk to their health.

Parents should be wary of their children’s heads, says Dr Kerry Peek, a professor of physiotherapy at the University of Sydney and a member of Football Australia’s Head and Concussion Expert Task Force.

“It’s a skill that usually isn’t taught until a child is approaching high school age,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“With the title, there are two concerns: there’s the short-term risk of concussion, and then there’s also the long-term risk of repeated head collisions.”

Heading the ball can lead to concussions and players’ heads often collide when battling for the ball (pictured, Alanna Kennedy playing against Nigeria)

Kennedy LeSommer

Kennedy (pictured competing for a header against France’s Eugénie Le Sommer) is out of the Matildas World Cup qualifier against Sweden with a concussion

Peek said heading is an important part of the game that shouldn’t be banned, but young players should only start playing it at an appropriate age.

“When we look at (Matildas captain) Sam Kerr, she’s a master of that. There’s a big difference between what she does and just putting her head in the way and letting the ball bounce,” she said.

Peek suggested introducing children to the head by getting a rolled up ball of newspaper, throwing it at the child’s head, and having them catch it with their hands to get them used to following the ball’s flight.

“Kids who can catch that ball with their eyes open can be ready to learn to steer safely. But if they turn away or stoop, these kids aren’t even close to starting to lead,” she explained.

Peek was the lead author of an article which advised all football associations to strive to limit the total number of headers players make in training.

A training exercise of keeping the ball in the air as long as possible by heading it concerns doctors

A training exercise of keeping the ball in the air as long as possible by heading it concerns doctors

As of 2020, the English Football Association (FA) has advised all clubs against teaching children under 12 how to head a ball.

The FA advocate a ‘graduated’ approach to introducing the skill, with a player under the age of 16 not allowed to use their head more than 10 times a week, including games and training.

Such a ban does not exist in Australia.

Another leading doctor is even more adamant young Australian players should be banned from repeatedly heading footballs as it leaves them vulnerable to brain damage.

NSW-based Dr Adrian Cohen, a concussion researcher at Headsafe, said routine play can have dire consequences.

“Think of each header as a transfer of energy to your brain; you have a total lifetime dose of energy equal to the number of times you head the ball,” Cohen said.


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He wants the head to be eradicated from all practices for young people.

“Heading the ball hurts. Children don’t like to do this. Why do we subject them to this? He asked.

Football’s governing body FIFA has repeatedly been accused of ‘procastinating’ while other federations of different codes have issued guidance designed to protect players from the risk of dementia and other illnesses associated with blows to the head.

UEFA, meanwhile, issued a slim set of recommendations aimed at limiting the number of titles among young players in June 2020.

Some of the worst injuries sustained when heading the ball come from header clashes

Some of the worst injuries sustained when heading the ball come from header clashes

To help mitigate balls in the air and therefore attempt to direct them, Football NSW consulted Peek and made changes to goalkeeper kicks.

Kicking restrictions for players under 11 include a ban on drop kicks, which have been replaced with a place kick as it helps keep the ball on the ground.

One factor behind growing concern among footballers is the effect of repeatedly heading the ball, which does not cause a concussion, but can lead to subtle changes in brain function that go undetected.

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